Balzac (typeset as BALZAC) is a Japanese punk band formed in 1992 in Kyoto. The band was founded by singer and songwriter Hirosuke Nishiyama, who has remained the only constant member of the band since its creation. Balzac was highly influenced by the sound and image of the famous horror punk band the Misfits and, especially during the very early years, Glenn Danzig’s Samhain, adopting and combining the musical and visual style of both bands to create their own. Despite the horror themes and imagery, the band’s music tends to steer away from being the cartoony flotsam many newcomers to horror punk/horrorcore resort to, though they are happy to exploit their look visually through toys and merchandise.
The band has gained a certain amount of recognition and exposure outside of their native country, where they are very well known. Currently they have five official clothing brands (Shocker!!!, Dementia 13, Culture, XXXxxx and Balzac) with one store in Japan, plus three online stores (Shocker Webstore, Shocker World Wide and Shocker EU). They also have their own official record label called Evilegend 13 Records on which they have released EPs, singles and videos. Balzac is also well known for its toy releases, some created by the companies T.W.I.M. and Secret Base, and its extensive discography and side-projects.
The current line-up of the band consists of Hirosuke Nishiyama (vocals), Atsushi Nakagawa (guitar/chorus), Akio Imai (bass/chorus) and Takayuki Manabe (drums/digital effects/chorus). Musically the band has drawn from punk, pop, industrial and noise, across their various releases.
Singer Hirosuke Nishiyama was originally the lead singer for Astrozombies, a band heavily influenced by the legendary Japanese rock group Gastunk (themselves pitched somewhere midway between the Misfits and Iron Maiden). After releasing just one demo cassette, entitled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hirosuke decided to disband and started his next project, Balzac, in 1992, named after the French novelist and playwright, Honoré de Balzac, more through the way the name sounded than any artistic inference. The band’s first line-up consisted of Hirosuke Nishiyama on vocals, Yoritsugu “Anti” Azuchi on bass, Tetsuya on guitar and Naoki on drums. During that time the band released their first demo cassette, which was limited to 13 copies only, entitled Scapegoat666.
In 1993, having undergone a slight line-up change (to become a regular occurence), they released their second demo cassette, Descent of the Diabolos, going on to release the band’s first single, “The Lord of the Light and of the Darkness”, on their own record label, Evilegend13 Records. Over the next few years the band released four more singles, “Atom Age Vampire in 308” (on MCR), “Isolation From No. 13” (on HG Fact), “When the Fiendish Ghouls Night” (on Evilegend13 Records), and were part of some various artists compilations. Having toured Japan extensively even before the release of their first single, they had developed a dedicated fanbase in their home country.
By 1995 the band managed to release their first full-length album, The Last Men on Earth, after being signed to Alchemy Records. Comparisons to the Misfits are inevitable and entirely justified but their speed and energy are evident throughout, as is their knowledge of horror films – the instrumental opener ‘Night of the Blood Beast’, ’13 Ghosts’ and ‘Day the Earth Caught Fire’ and intriguing and great fun, though the Misfits-alike choruses are a little too familiar and cause the listener to err on the side of caution.
1997 saw the release of Deep – Teenagers from Outer Space and saw them much improved in a studio setting, powerful production, even greater speed and ferocity and catchy songs which were more obviously drawing on their own talents, ironically just as a resurrected, Danzig-free Misfits appeared. Now being headed by original member and long-time bassist Jerry Only, Balzac was asked to open for the Misfits when they came for their first Japanese tour. This would mark a milestone in the band’s career, which would lead to much success for Balzac outside of Japan in the coming years. Their third album, 13 Stairway – The Children of the Night appeared just a year later, prolific releases being quite common for Japanese bands, especially rock and punk groups. They launched a full-scale all-Japan tour to promote their album and played to sold-out crowds.
In 1999, Balzac released a split single, “Oldevils Legend of Blood”, with friends and fellow Japanese rock band Sobut. They released a special 12-inch version of “Isolation From No. 13”, a remixed tape as a special box set with toy industry friends, T.W.I.M (The World Is Mine) whose headquarters are in Nagoya, as well as playing on a Gastunk tribute album. On Halloween they released one of their most popular singles, “Into the Light From the 13 Dark Night”, on vinyl, CD, and cassette. It would be re-recorded in many different versions over the next few years. They also released the flexi 7-inch including “Neat Neat Neat,” a Damned cover. This year also marked the beginning of the band’s own fan club, the Fiendish Club a somewhat outrageous steal from The Misfits’ Fiend Club; it offered fans a great way to stay in touch with the band and to receive some very rare items at the same time; Japanese and international wings of the club were eventually opened to satiate demand.
2000 saw The Misfits back touring Japan, and Balzac was there opening for them once again. The band were now popular enough that, again, like The Misfits (and in fairness Kiss and many other bands), more unusual merchandise began to appear, notably, Medicom Toy Co. versions of band members. Soon after, they released another figure, this time a 12-inch RAH version of the band’s mascot, the Paperbag Man, luridly packed with various accessories. In December 2000 Balzac released their next full-length album, Zennou-Naru Musuu-No Me Ha Shi Wo Yubi Sasu, a concept album more industrial in style than previous releases, though it still sold extremely well. Balzac opened their first retail store in Osaka, Japan – “Shocker!!!”, enabling them to sell their own original Shocker!!!! brand merchandise, as well as musical releases. Hirosuke also has his own clothing brand called “Dementia Thirteen” which is also available through the store. More recently, they have also launched yet another clothing brand, “Culture”, and are in the process of fully releasing another one called “XXXxxx”.
In early 2001 the band released numerous singles, as well as a box set featuring the artwork of Japanese manga artist Suehiro Maruo, which had been used on the album Zennou-Naru Musuu no Me ha Shi wo Yubi Sasu. They also opened their second retail store, Coffin, in Kyoto. The following year, Balzac released a split single with The Misfits covering the songs “The Haunting” and “Don’t Open ‘Til Doomsday” as a medley, while The Misfits covered the Balzac’s “Day the Earth Caught Fire”. In April 2002 Balzac released their fifth full-length studio album a double disc set called Terrifying! Art of Dying – The Last Men On Earth II. The first disc was mostly new material while disc two was a complete re-recording of the band’s first full-length CD, The Last Man On Earth. On Halloween the band was invited to play in New York City, USA, with The Misfits, making this the first time the band played live outside of Japan. They were received very well and would be asked back to tour the following summer.
2003 would be another breakthrough year for the band, touring with The Misfits, The Damned, The Dickies, and Agnostic Front, as well as releasing a maxi-single entitled “Beware of Darkness as part of a special 4-figure toy set from Medicom Toys Co. The video for the song was recorded in the USA and was released in May 2003. There was a censored, as well as uncensored version, due to the graphic nature of the video. They also released their first USA CD, Beyond the Darkness, on the newly founded Misfits Records.
In 2004 they released their sixth full-length album, Came Out of the Grave, released in a special edition long-box with a Be@rbrick figure inside. During that summer they played a large festival with American punk rock band Rancid, and released a tour documentary about their first USA tour, The Fiend Fest, later playing their first tour in Europe.
By 2005 they had released the single “D.A.R.K”. Soon after they released a mini album entitled Dark-Ism. 2006-2008: Deep Blue & Hatred, following this only a year later with their seventh full-length album, Deep Blue: Chaos from Darkism II in March. It was coupled with a special Skull Bat figure, also in 2 limited colours. Not content with this rapid release rate, they also performed as Zodiac, releasing a full-length Zodiac album, Beware On Halloween.
In 2008, Balzac released their eighth full-length album entitled Hatred: Destruction = Construction. It marked a return to the heavier and darker side for the band, reminiscent of some of their earlier work. It was released in a regular edition, as well as a 666mm special edition featuring artwork by comic book artist Liam Sharp.
Around May 2009, the band gave the first hints on the process of making their next full-length album. They also released a couple of toys, shirts, pens, mugs and other items in collaboration with the Japanese company Sanrio, more specifically their character Hello Kitty, having the famous cat donning the characteristic skullsuit, another nod towards early Misfits. Further releases followed, their longevity and output allowing for multiple ‘best of’s’ and collections.
1995: The Last Men on Earth
1997: Deep – Teenagers from Outer Space
1998: 13 Stairway – The Children of the Night
2000: Zennou-Naru Musuu-No Me Ha Shi Wo Yubi Sasu
2002: Terrifying! Art of Dying – The Last Men On Earth II
2004: Came Out of the Grave
2006: Deep Blue: Chaos from Darkism II
2007: Paranoid Dream of the Zodiac
2008: Hatred: Destruction = Construction
2008: The Birth of Evil (Re-recordings of Demo material)
2009: Paradox (Mini album)
2010: Judgement Day
Daz Lawrence, moviesandmania